The Blackfeet lands have supported hundreds of calf births these past few weeks, and in turn the calves born will support the Blackfeet community. It is the ranchers, though, who have taken the responsibility to see all those new lives successfully entered into this world.
The diligence calving season requires starts before even the first calf is born. Ranchers throughout these months have been carefully studying their herds to be able to anticipate the next birth.
“Working cattle is mostly looking at cow butts all day,” local rancher Joe Kipp said as he inspected his heard from a distance. “I look for the signs like a kinked or stiff tail, or pacing, and at their bags to know they are getting close.”
But just knowing when a calf is about to come can only prepare the rancher so much. Even a simple, healthy birth leads to the speedy scramble to grab, tag, spray, inject and check the sex of that calf… and the dozens more waiting with their protective, hard working mammas.
That’s a day-in, day-out duty to go out on the gator to attend to those new calves. It’s done even after a long day, even if it’s early, cold or muddy, even if the kids, grandkids and cousins all have home school and 4-H projects and need their lunch. There’s still time made to go back out to see what new calf is waiting to be found, and ready to get you covered in grass, placenta and mud.
Often enough though a calf needs extra care. Joe Kipp’s ranching partner and wife, Kathy Kipp, has spent these past few weeks caring for several calves that required extra attention. Kathy explained that some calves face challenges that could keep them from being able to nurse during those important first three hours after being born so that they can get the colostrum in the mother’s milk.
Sometimes it is the wet or cold that affects the calf’s strength.
“The weather makes a difference in the survival of the calves ‘cause most of the cows calve in the field,” Joe explained. Other times it can be something during pregnancy that causes calves to need extra help after birth such as being born as twins. Twin calves often have issues like “their tendons and legs are warped from not having enough room in the womb, or sometimes their mother will reject one calf,” explained Joe.
Kathy demonstrated some of the extra efforts ranchers put in to help those calves survive.
“Sometimes we will help them nurse the mother, pin her up so she’s still, but if we have to we milk the mom and bottle feed them. If their legs are crooked we splint them to give them the support they need to stand and nurse.”
The attention ranchers give towards tending their cows can mean waiting through the night, ready to help out a young heifer struggling with her first birth, prepared to pull extra large calves at any hour. Ranchers watch and know when a sickly calf can be saved, maybe carrying it to a warmer, maybe helping it stand to drink or splinting it. And a rancher knows when a calf is unsavable, though they will still try past their better judgment to save it. No calf is insignificant to a rancher, even though they have had hundreds of calves before and hundreds more to come because according to Joe, “You wouldn’t be ranching if you didn’t love calves; you have to love the calves to be in this business.”